by Sriyani Tidball
People of color, including those of multiracial and multiethnic heritage represent an increasing proportion of the U.S. population, and today according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40 percent of the nation’s population consists of people of color. Lincoln is one of the top 20 cities in America for new arrivals from abroad, and all this adds to the rich cultural diversity of this small Midwestern city.
Refugees and first generation residents from Russia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan, Hungary and Ethiopia, often frequent the local supermarkets and schools. You can actually find exotic Asian vegetables in your chain grocery stores. To add to this, when you go to the local summer markets around the city, you find local vendors grow unusual produce just for this new population. Often, when you walk through a department store, you can hear people speaking Iraqi, Vietnamese, French, Kurdish, or Sudanese.
Lincoln also has a number of cultural centers where families can get involved. Here is a sample of many of their activities. The centers are designed so the local community can be more involved in these cultures, making Lincoln a truly diverse city.
El Centro de las Americas was created in 1982 and was originally operated from the home of a parishioner in Lincoln’s Spanish-speaking Catholic community. The current center offers educational and cultural activities. Thousands of people visit the center each year for services including emergency assistance, food, clothing, employment, empowerment, cultural and educational opportunities. The center also provides a summer school lunch program for children ages 18 and younger, bilingual mental health outreach and substance abuse programs, candidate forums, special tutoring and motivational programs for Hispanic high school students.
The annual Hispanic Heritage Festival is one of the special events run by the center annually. Each September the festival features food booths, music, performances, crafts, and fine and performing arts. The celebration includes a blending of traditions from Amerindian, African, Asian and European peoples. It is fast becoming a beloved Lincoln tradition. Read more at www.elcentrodelasamericas.org
The Asian Community and Cultural Center serves both Asian refugees and established members of Lincoln’s fast-growing Asian population.
To help new refugees become self-sufficient as they integrate into their new homes here in Lincoln, the center offers the Fusion Project. The Fusion Project works together with different refugee groups, so they can build an educated and culturally rich community for all of Lincoln’s residents.
In addition to the Chinese Tai Chi Chuan (martial arts) classes, the Japanese Aki-Matsuri Fall Festival, and the Lion Dance Troupe (a traditional dance form), the center has developed programs that share all aspects of Asian cultures. Most of the volunteers are bilingual high school and college students who offer their services on a flexible schedule. For more information check out their website at lincolnasiancenter.org.
The Indian Center, Inc. was formed in 1969 to provide services to Nebraska’s Native Americans and other Lincoln residents in the areas of food commodities, housing, culture, employment and health.
The center, known for its generosity, offers free lunch for anyone in need who comes through the front door. Its Senior Center, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., highlights specific programs for seniors. Special projects tailored for youth empowerment, include Indian child welfare, Native American Junior Achievement and summer youth programs. Other activities include an art exhibit and pow-wows in Lincoln.
The center welcomes volunteers in its employment/training programs to help locate jobs in the community for the unemployed. Work Investment Act (WIA) and Lakota Language classes are offered weekly. For more information visit http://indiancenterinc.org.
The Clyde Malone Community Center has long fought for civil rights and works to improve the lives of African-American residents of the Malone, Clinton and Hartley neighborhoods in Lincoln.
Strengthening family unity is the goal of many Malone programs. The center offers childcare, intervention programs for children at risk that includes reading and writing assistance for elementary age students. Malone also provides substance abuse programs for elementary and secondary students, plus transportation to its after-school programs.
In late November, the center reached 1,700 Lincoln/Lancaster County families with Thanksgiving baskets assembled by volunteers. Businesses and scout troops help collect some of the food, and the Malone Center gym becomes a makeshift warehouse the Saturday before the holiday. The Thanksgiving project is the center’s biggest volunteer effort. For more information, check out www.malonecenter.org.
On April 12, 2010, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) celebrated the opening of the brand new, state-of-the-art Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.
Located at the heart of the City Campus, the $8.7 million, 30,000 square-foot center was built through a generous donation from the family of Jackie Gaughan of Las Vegas, along with funds from UNL. It facilitates multicultural programming with student lounges, a computer lab, meeting rooms and a large multi-use area, student offices, tutoring rooms and space for faculty, staff and students dedicated to diversity and multicultural programming. It includes the staff of the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services (OASIS). The Gaughan Multicultural Center continues the university’s tradition of past UNL Culture Centers, providing a home away from home for underrepresented students, while welcoming all UNL students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests.
For more information on the Gaughan Multicultural Center and related events, go to http://unions.unl.edu/jgmc.